It's impossible now to assess the influence of positive discrimination in making Poitier the first black man to win the Oscar for Best Actor, but against competition from Albert Finney, Richard Harris and Paul Newman, his essentially lightweight performance as the handyman building a new chapel for a group of German nuns hardly seems, in hindsight, a front runner. Hard to begrudge him the plaudits, of course, but this gentle liberal offering from the Civil Rights era is too busy being audience friendly to count for much. Racial issues are the background, given the character's rootless fortunes, and there's a hint of tension with the construction company foreman (director Nelson, uncredited), but for the most part Poitier is all hard-working decency and will-to-succeed personified. Skala's steely Mother Superior thankfully seasons the feelgoodery, but the other sisters contribute twee comedic misunderstandings and back-up chorus to Poitier's thuddingly symbolic hot gospelling. It might be significant as an early independent movie made good, but Poitier got better when he got angrier for In the Heat of the Night four years later.
Lilies of the Field
Cast and crew